The British public – and the British media in particular – are obsessed with benefits, and those who claim them. You only have to look at the Channel 4 archives, with programmes such as Benefits Street and How to Get a Council House, to realise that.
Every time there’s a new article or programme or conversation around benefits in this country, you can bet your bottom dollar that the ignorant and the cruel and the heartless and the downright moronic cretins of the country will crawl out of the woodwork.
If you can’t afford to support a family, you shouldn’t have seven kids!
I don’t believe for a second that people on benefits even try to look for work!
Bloody scroungers! If people on benefits are so poor, why do they have laptops?!
Even those who aren’t so blatantly obnoxious often quietly harbour resentments towards those who claim benefits. After all, how many times have you heard your usually-polite-but-sometimes-a-bit-racist co-worker complain that, while he’s hard at work in retail or property or whatever industry he works in, there are people out there earning more money than him for doing sweet Fanny Adams?
The problem with these people and thoughts and opinions is not only that they’re mean and callous and rude, but that they’re also completely and utterly wrong. So in the interest of fact checking and truth, today I’m going to debunk some one the most common myths and misconceptions about benefits, and those who claim them.
Benefit fraud is a massive problem
Most proponents of stricter guidelines surrounding benefits usually claim that they’re necessary because thousands of people claim benefits fraudulently each year – and that it’s costing the hard-working tax-payer billions upon billions of pounds.
And on the face of it, these people are right. It is estimated that each year, £1.3 billion is lost to benefit fraud – which might sound high, but in actual fact accounts for less than 1% of the total benefit spend each year.
In contrast, it has been estimated that tax evasion and fraud costs the UK government £16 billion a year – more than ten times the amount lost to benefit fraud.
So who’s the real problem here? Benefit ‘scroungers’, or tax-evading comedians, bankers, and millionaires?[bctt tweet=”Tax fraud costs the UK ten times more than benefit fraud” username=”oawoodward”]
Benefits discourage people from looking for work
The logic supposedly goes that if the state is giving hand-outs, then people won’t want to go out to work. Because, y’know, who would voluntarily go to work each day when they don’t have to – right?!
The accusation goes further, stating that parents who rely on benefits go on to produce children, and even grandchildren, who would rather claim benefits than get a job. Ergo, we need to drastically cut benefits so that people will be forced to look for work. Right?!
In 2012, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation conducted a study, and was unable to find any families where three generations had never worked. Although there were families found in which two generations had never worked, these accounted for less than 1% of unemployed people – thereby debunking the myth that unemployed parents produce unemployed children and grandchildren.
This, when you actually think about it, is unsurprising. Benefit claimants in the UK face an unprecedented amount of stigma. Indeed, the British public nowadays are more likely to view benefits claimants as lazy and undeserving than they were twenty years ago, according to research by the University of Kent.
People on benefits have far too many children
One of the most common accusations against benefit claimants is that they simply have far too many children. If they’d just control their urges, use contraception, and crush any desire they have for a large family, then they’d be able to support themselves.
In reality, despite what The Sun and The Daily Mail will try to tell you, only 8% of benefit claimants have more than 3 children. There is, therefore, little evidence to suggest that people are having children simply so they can claim more benefits.
Turns out people are having lots of children because, well, they want lots of children. Shocker, I know.
You’re better off on benefits than you are working
Miserable opponents to the welfare state like to grumble about all of these claimants living lavish lifestyles while they’re struggling to make ends meet in their full-time job. No wonder these people aren’t bothering to get jobs! they cry. They’re better off on benefits than they are working!
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, however, this is categorically untrue.
The Foundation has found that a person claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Support will, on average, be left with a disposable income of £70.47 a week.
Someone working full-tie in a minimum wage job (with minimum wage at the time of this study being £6.31/hour), however, will have a total disposable income of £132.84 a week – nearly double that of the benefits claimant.
Tell me again how it’s soo much better to be on benefits than it is to work?[bctt tweet=”People on minimum wage have twice as much disposable income and those on benefits” username=”oawoodward”]
Poor people shouldn’t buy anything nice. Ever
I’m sure in benefit claimants had a pound for every time someone had a go at them for owning a smartphone or a laptop while they’re on benefits, they would have enough money to stop claiming.
There seems to be this notion that if you’re not working, you shouldn’t have a laptop, or a smartphone, or a television, or anything nice. Apparently poor people should just sit around thinking about how poor they are all the time.[bctt tweet=”‘Apparently poor people should just sit around thinking about how poor they are.'” username=”oawoodward”]
But what these negative Nancys fail to realise is that laptops – or some device that can connect to the Internet – are essential in this day and age. For a start, 77% of job seekers use online or mobile job search apps to help them look for work. Turns out banning benefit claimants from having laptops would severely limit their ability to look for work in the first place.
But it’s not impossible to look for job without a computer! I hear you cry! And you are correct, it’s not. But computers can be used for more than just looking for jobs.
Suppose, for example, the benefit claimant has school-aged children. In this day and age, school-aged children need computers. Whether it’s for researching difficult topics, using online revision tools, or simply writing essays, completely school without access to a computer is downright impossible. With public libraries closing at an astonishing rate of knots, buying a laptop is the easiest way to ensure your child can actually do their schoolwork.
But what about mobile phones?! you plead desperately. Why on earth would people on benefits need mobile phones? Well, so they can have a number for potential employers to contact them on, for a start. Moreover, for the people who don’t buy laptops, smartphones can provide them access to email and the Internet – which, as we’ve already established, is pretty damn essential nowadays.
As for other ‘luxury goods’, have you ever stopped to think that maybe benefit claimants are human too? That they have interests and passions and a desire to unwind just like the rest of us? That maybe buying nice things makes life on benefits a little nicer?
So next time you jump into a debate about benefits, brazenly declaring that all claimants are dirty scroungers who should just get off their lazy backsides and become productive members of society, remember – most of you what you think you know about benefits is probably wrong.[bctt tweet=”5 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Benefits” username=”oawoodward”]